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Sunday's Word: History

No, I'm not going to say the season is "history". But "history" does apply as today's Word.

Lehigh trades on "history". This football program is not unique in that regard, but Lehigh's football program exists in a unique blend of football excellence, dedication to academics, "The Rivalry", and "history".

In Lehigh's "history" are "Middle Three" championships, Patriot League championships, Lambert Cups, a Division II national championship, and I-AA playoff success. "History" sells the program; it's what gets recruits here, it's what keeps former athletes and students interested in the program, and in "The Rivalry" it's what everyone rallies around.

"History" is omnipresent on Saturdays during football season. At halftime of two games this year, the 1957 Lambert Cup winning team and the 1977 Division II National Championship were honored.

In an added twist on "history" this year, the folks in the Athletic Department at Lehigh have come up with an entertaining series about the "Top 20 Moments at Murray Goodman Stadium". It gives us a taste of lots of great comebacks, dominating performances, and peeks at those teams of "history". (I was at some of those games.)

This week, the chosen Murray Goodman highlight was a game from 1998: Lehigh's 41-22 victory over a Colgate team that beat the Mountain Hawks 61-28 the year before. Then-sophomore FB Brett Snyder ('00) and QB Phil Stambaugh ('00) were all over those highlight reels, as was WR Deron Braswell ('99) in an impressive, entertaining offensive display. Defensively, DB Sam Brinley ('99) was patrolling the backfield, while LB Ian Eason ('00) delivered some huge hits. The game highlighted both offense and defense shining on that particular day in a season where Lehigh would finish the regular season undefeated and travel to Richmond to shock the Spiders of the A-10, 24-23, in a first round playoff game.

It would signal the start of the Kevin Higgins Era. With a young coaching staff featuring names like Tom Gilmore, Andy Coen, Pete Lembo and Dave Cecchini, the "Higgins Era" ushered in three straight Patriot League championships, another playoff win (a complete domination of Western Illinois 37-7), and ended with Higgins leaving for the coaching staff of the Detroit Lions in 2000.

As Lehigh fans, we are constantly being reminded of dominating teams like that 1998 squad, the D-II national champions of 1977 coached by John Whitehead, the 1957 Bill Leckonby-coached team that went 9-1 and won a Lambert Cup -- and then tuning in to actual performances like the futility that was the second half of the Colgate game.

At halftime, we see the '98 team with Brett Snyder willing his way into the end zone through three Colgate defenders. Back in the real-world of 2007, against Colgate we see dropped passes. An inexcusable play where the lead blocker lets the kicker get by him to tackle the return man on what would have been a sure TD. Two burned timeouts on defense within a minute of each other. Bad Interceptions. Mental errors. A botched snap on a field goal robbing Lehigh of points.

And, of course, another loss.

Folks are saying, "What we're seeing is not Lehigh football out there." That's "History" talking.

"History" raises expectations, sometimes to levels that are beyond ridiculous. No program, no matter how great they are, cannot win every title every year, even though fans may think so.

This could very well be the story of the 2007 season when all is said and done. Part of me says, "exactly when did I think it was reasonable to expect a Patriot League championship when we are starting two freshmen at RB?" Look up and down the roster, there are underclassmen galore, including a significant number of freshmen. Maybe this was all a rebuilding year, and I was too stupid to see it. Believe it or not, a win against Bucknell and a win against "that school in Easton" in "The Rivalry", 2007 will be seen as a building block to what hopefully will be a fantastic 2008.

But then I turn around and revisit the potential that senior QB Sedale Threatt had going into this year as last year's Offensive Player of the Year, and say, "How is it possible that he's now relegated to run-only situations and catching the ball?" This was a player that was a game-changer his junior year - not a perfect quarterback, a guy that did need some work to become great - but still a player that other teams actually feared.

What in Sam Hill has happened? I don't even think the rosiest of Lafayette fans would have ever predicted anything like what has happened to us offensively. And it stands in stark contrast to any of the "history" of Lehigh football in the past 20 years.

If you leaf through the Lehigh Media guide, you see "A Look Back at Lehigh Football Through The Years". The "history" reads: "Lehigh had long been recognized for offensive prowess, but in the late 1980s and through the 1990s that reputation became legend. Lehigh regularly led the league in offensive production and ranked among the nation's top offensive teams."

Not every game in Murray Goodman was a win, but in its "history" you could count on entertainment and (generally) lots of scoring in the past.

And around FCS, this offensive "history" is still uncomfortably close by.

In Year Two after Pete Lembo left for Elon University, he has his Phoenix on the brink of a SoCon championship and quite possibly an at-large berth to the FCS playoffs. They average 36.78 points per game, good for No. 13 in the nation.

Tom Gilmore could still lead his 6-3 Holy Cross Crusaders to a playoff berth as well. They average 38.56 points per game, good for No. 9 in the nation.

And had The Citadel's QB Duran Lawson not gotten hurt we might have been saying the same thing about Kevin Higgins (with offensive coordinator Dave Cecchini). They average 35.78 points per game, good enough for No. 14 in the nation.

Everywhere a Lehigh fan turns, "history" is staring him in the face. High-scoring offenses, and possible playoff berths.

But instead of that, Lehigh fans are looking at a team that can't get out of its own way and can barely score more than a touchdown a game: or 21.78 points per game, good for No. 84 in the nation. For those keeping score, that's good for fifth place in the Patriot League, just ahead of Georgetown (15.40, No. 105) and barely ahead of Bucknell (20.33, No. 92).

Fans at some schools could potentially accept this offensive production if it's a rebuilding year, if their team has the best defense in the country, or if a coach is perhaps building a program. But at Lehigh, with our "history", it simply cannot stand. The fact is Lehigh fans will not accept it.


Anonymous said…
A thought occurs - do any Lehigh teams have winning records this fall? Is this something that represents an institutional issue we alumni need to be concerned about?

No criticism intended - just wondering.
Anonymous said…
Chuck, ever since you put that You-Tube window on the blog it blocks out half the type. Is this happening to anyone else? Thanks.
Anonymous said…
That was one depressing post. What a great ride this program had in the Higgins era and, I have to admit, for a brief time in the Lembo era as well. How may good coaches did we let get away? What will next year bring? This team is hard to watch as they seem to self destruct. Not sure what kind of recruiting classes Coen has brought in but seasons like this won't help attract any top notch recruits.
Anonymous said…
I do believe Coen brought in a great freshman class this year. I think we should give him time with his own recurits. The troubling part is the offensive and defense stragies as well as player development. With good coaching Sedale should of have a great senior season, someone dropped the ball on that. Coen should stay but Lehigh needs to bring in new coaches underneath him. That said if Lehigh can beat Bucknell and Lafayette, I like their chances for next year.
Anonymous said…
Just a little historical perspective from an old fan:

In the 27 seasons which have passed since 1980, the LU program has just 10 non winning seasons. I say "no winning" because the '87 and '94 teams were 5-5-1 each. So actually, there are just eight losing seasons in 27 years. Pretty good run of success. Also, there was a stretch of average football in there, encompassing parts of Whitehead, Small and Higgins eras. From '84 - '87 inclusive, the Engineers were in a 5-6 rut. 1992, 94, 96 and 97 were losing seasons too, then came the current run of nine straight winning campaigns.

Bottom-line: In 27 years, I count 192 W's for an average of 7 wins per season. Not many programs can say this. The past 27 seasons would indicate a committment to winning and there is no reason for anyone to jump ship.

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